Dir. The Spierig Brothers
Starring: Helen Mirren, Jason Clarke, and Sarah Snook.
I was looking forward to seeing Winchester. I’ve been interested in the story of the Winchester house ever since learning about its influence on The Haunted Mansion at Disneyland. I had also taken an interest in The Spierig Brothers after seeing Predestination and Daybreakers, both intelligent sci-fi movies which seemed to announce interesting new voices to the genre. They had returned last year with Jigsaw which was serviceable, but going into Winchester I was hoping for a smart, good looking horror, which bought something new to the genre. Eh…
Winchester tells the story of Dr. Eric Price, played by Jason Clarke, who is asked by The Winchester Repeating Fire Arms Company, to psychologically evaluate the company’s majority shareholder Sarah Winchester. The widow of the man who invented and sold the Winchester rifle, she is wracked with guilt over all the death the rifle has caused. Her mansion is a sprawling house of non-stop construction. Dozens of rooms that make no logical sense together, stairs that lead nowhere, cupboards which are secret doors. This is the most eccentric house ever. Sarah Winchester believes she is building the rooms that the ghosts of those killed by the Winchester Rifle need in order to move on. Dr. Price must decide whether she is mentally fit to run the company still, whilst battling demons of his own.
This film is a let down from start to finish. Pitched as a Victorian gothic ghost story, it’s full of familiar images, and well worn set pieces, which don’t offer audiences anything new, and don’t really amount to anything either. The film jumps from set piece to set piece, held together by the thinnest of plot threads. Yeah, there are some decent jump scares, just enough to fill a good trailer, but the film lacks any sense of escalation. The jumps at the start are exactly the same as the jumps at the end. It’s a monotonous film which keeps playing the same note until it outstays its welcome. It’s not a long film, only 1 hour 39 minutes, but I couldn’t have watched another 10.
The film feels like a wasted opportunity. It introduces some good ideas, but throws them away too soon. What is Sarah Winchester’s mental state? Let’s not really explore that. Are Jason Clarke’s encounters hallucinations bought on by his drug addiction? Who cares? Instead you get an hour of Helen Mirren walking around the house in a black veil, a creepy looking kid, and tons of shots of people slowly walking towards the next telegraphed jump scare. The biggest waste is the use of the house. The Spierig Brothers set all their scenes in about 7 different rooms, and shoot them in such an incredibly traditional manner, that as an audience member you are never once disorientated. The film never once wrong foots you, and in a house famed for doors that open to brick walls, and stairs that lead to nowhere, it feels like that’s the least it should be doing.
There are a ton of stories related to the Winchester House, and The Spierig Brothers have decided to tell the most by the numbers version of it. When the film isn’t being unintentionally funny, it’s just downright boring. It’s a huge disappointment from the talent involved. They also use a didgeridoo in the score. Who puts a didgeridoo in a horror film set in America?